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Posts Tagged ‘kagurazaka’

Ōedo Line: Ushigome-Yanagichō & Ushigome-Kagurazaka

In Japanese History on June 4, 2015 at 2:15 am

牛込柳町
Ushigome-Yanagichō (crowded with cows – willow tree town)

The alleged site of the Shieikan, Kondō Isami's fencing school and incubator for the most elite members.

The alleged site of the Shieikan, Kondō Isami’s fencing school and incubator for the most elite members.

I covered this place in 2013. In short, it’s the merging of 2 former place names in order to make a unique station name. That is to say, the area isn’t called Ushigome-Yanagichō, just the station is. The actual address is 新宿区原町 Shinjuku-ku Haramachi Haramachi, Shinjuku Ward. It’s a residential area with a few 下町 shitamachi low city features. The station gives you access to the alleged location of the 道場 dōjō martial arts school of 近藤勇 Kondō Isami, where much of the core leadership of the 新撰組 Shinsengumi trained[i].

I’ve never been to this station, so I can’t say much about what the area is like, but I’m assuming it’s primarily residential.

★ Wanna read my original article about Ushigome-Yanagichō?
★ Wanna read my original article about Ichigaya?

In the 60's and 70's, this valley was one of the most polluted areas in Tokyo.  See the original article for more details.

In the 60’s and 70’s, this valley was one of the most polluted areas in Tokyo.
See the original article for more details.

牛込神楽坂
Ushigome-Kagurazaka (crowded with cows – Shintō music hill)

Ushigome Bridge as seen from the base of Kaguarazaka.

Ushigome Bridge as seen from the base of Kaguarazaka.

I wrote about both Ushigome and Kagurazaka a few years ago. To a modern person visiting Tōkyō, this area seems really far from Edo Castle[ii]. But the fact is that the outer moat system extended to Ushigome and Kagurazaka. A modern bridge stands where 牛込橋 Ushigomebashi Ushigome Bridge crossed the outer moat[iii] and you still see the stone walls that were the base of a great gate to Edo Castle. The moat is still there too, but now a train runs along the castle side. Once you cross the bridge, you can begin your ascent up the Kagura Hill. In the Edo Period, this area mainly consisted of samurai residences.

The station is located at a major thoroughfare with a lot of car and pedestrian traffic. But off the main road, it’s actually a quiet residential area that is peppered with specialized Japanese restaurants and 料亭 ryōtei high end, formal Japanese restaurants. It preserves a feeling of Edo’s yamanote mystique and some ryōtei even feature 芸者 geisha – a bit of a rarity in Tōkyō. I highly recommend just taking the train to this area for the sole purpose of getting lost in hopes of finding a cool, tiny restaurant. Trust me. You’ll love it.

★ Wanna read my original article about Ushigome?
★ Wanna read my original article about Kagurazaka?

Tomochiyo, a young geisha who debuted in Kagurazaka in 2010. She's dressed casually in this informal shot, but I like the photo because it looks like she isn't wearing a wig, but is using her natural hair. I think she's pretty cute. How about you?

Tomochiyo, a young geisha who debuted in Kagurazaka in 2010. She’s dressed casually in this informal shot, but I like the photo because it looks like she isn’t wearing a wig, but is using her natural hair. I think she’s pretty cute. How about you?

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This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here.

________________________
[i] Who were the Shinsengumi?
[ii] Present day 皇居 Kokyō Imperial Palace, but we don’t use that word here at JapanThis.
No, we never ever use that word. It’s Edo Castle. Don’t you forget that.
[iii] Today the moat is a pathway for a train.

What does Ushigome mean?

In Japan, Japanese Castles, Travel in Japan on September 24, 2013 at 6:08 pm

牛込
Ushigome (Crowd of Cows)

View of Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke and Ushigome Go-mon. Judging from the high walls and design of the building on the left, I would say that was a daimyo residence.

View of Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke and Ushigome Go-mon.
Judging from the high walls and design of the building on the left, I would say that was a daimyo residence.
But nary a cow in sight… lol

ushi

cow

komi[i]

swarming, huddling, amassed, crowded,
“in bulk”

According to Japanese Wikipedia[ii], in 701, in accordance to the Taihō Code, a livestock ranch was established in this area. In fact, two were established which were sometimes referred to as 牛牧 gyūmaki a cow ranch and 馬牧 umamaki a horse ranch. These two locations came to be referred to as 牛込 Ushigome and 駒込 Komagome.

The fact that there was a cattle/dairy ranch here in the Asuka Period is a known fact (it’s documented). The horse ranch is a different story. In all of my research about Komagome, I didn’t find a single mention of this. When you look up Ushigome, many articles tend to mention Komagome, and I think that because of the strength of the evidence in support of the Ushigome being a literal etymology, the writers try to associate Komagome with it. But this would be a false etymology. Their logic: two places have similar names, they must be related, right?[iii]

Well, anyways, it’s possible that there is a connection between the two (one of the theories about Komagome is that it was a place where horses were herded into a confined space). There just isn’t any record of this being so. When we don’t have the evidence we should always take that theory with a grain of salt.

But with Ushigome, rest assured, this is most likely the case.

Cattle ranches aren't really a common theme in Japanese art, so I can't really imagine what one would have looked like. However, I found this 1950's aerial shot from Oregon in the 1950's and I wonder if an ancient Japanese cattle ranch would have looked a little like this....

Cattle ranches aren’t really a common theme in Japanese art, so I can’t really imagine what one would have looked like.
However, I found this 1950’s aerial shot from Oregon in the 1950’s and I wonder if an ancient Japanese cattle ranch would have looked a little like this….

In an edict during the reign of 文武天皇 Monmu Tennō Emperor Monmu (701-704) a place variously referred to as 神崎牛牧 Kanzaki no Gyūmaki Kanzaki Cattle Ranch and 乳牛院 Gyūnyūin “The Milk Institute” was established in the area in the vicinity of 元赤城神社 Moto-Akasaka Jinja Old Akasaka Shrine[iv].

Asakusa Shrine

Today Old Asakusa Shrine is just an afterthought to this building.

Located in the heart of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo's busiest and craziest areas, Akasaka Hikawa Shrine is a welcome way to jump back to Edo while in the craziness that is Tokyo.

Located in the heart of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s busiest and craziest areas, present day Akasaka Hikawa Shrine is a welcome way to jump back to Edo while in the craziness that is Tokyo.

A branch of the 大胡氏 Ōgo-shi Ōgo clan from 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province had been living in the Ushigome area since the 1300’s and, if I’m not mistaken, originally held dominion over the area from present day Shinjuku to Ushigome.

In 1553 a member of said clan switched allegiance from the Uesugi to the Hōjō and in return was granted dominion over the area stretching from present day Ushigome to Hibiya (ie; Edo Bay)[v]. The lord built a castle (fortified residence) somewhere in that area and took the place name to establish his own branch of the family and thus the Ushigome clan was born, 牛込氏 Ushigome-shi. The area is elevated so it would have been defensible. It also had a view of Edo Bay and so they could keep an eye on who was coming in and out of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay[vi].

In 1590, the Hōjō were defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Tokugawa Ieyasu was famously granted the 関八州 Kanhasshū the 8 Kantō Provinces, which included Edo. Ieyasu evicted the residents of the castle and confiscated the property.

It’s not clear where the castle was located, but there is a tradition at 光照寺 Kōshō-ji Kōshō Temple that says the temple was built on the site of 牛込城 Ushigome Castle. I’ve never looked for myself, but it seems like there are no ruins that confirm this story[vii]. There is a nice sign, though.

Being a large plateau, in the Edo Period, this area was clearly 山手 yamanote the high city and was populated by massive daimyō residences and the homes of high ranking 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun.

Fans of Edo Castle or just any history-minded resident of Tōkyō will recognize the name 牛込橋 Ushigomebashi Ushigome Bridge. This bridge led from Kagurazaka to Edo Castle. If you crossed the bridge you would arrive at  牛込見附 Ushigome-mitsuke Ushigome Approach[viii] and there you would see the 牛込御門 Ushigome go-mon Ushigome Gate. The bridge spanned 牛込濠 Ushigomebori Ushigome Moat. Today the moat is dammed up under the bridge and the Chūō Line runs under it. On one side you can see the moat, on the other side – if I remember correctly – are just trees, a small skyscraper, and a train station; another fine example of Japan bulldozing over and building over its past. That said, there’s plenty to see and do in the area if you feel like having a history walk in the area.

Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke

Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke. The area under the bridge is already partially dammed up.

This is what a Mitsuke is. It's a place to trap intruders as they come in (or perhaps exit). Like a lock and damn system on a river, you're trapped while you approach the castle. The actual Ushigome Gate is the large structure on the right.

This is what a Mitsuke is. It’s a place to trap intruders as they come in (or perhaps exit). Like a lock and damn system on a river, you’re trapped while you approach the castle. The actual Ushigome Gate is the large structure on the right.

That awkward Meiji Period that started the destruction of the area.

That awkward Meiji Period that started the destruction of the area.

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[i] For an explanation of this sound change from /komi/ to /gome/, please see my article on Komagome.
[ii] By the way, I didn’t get all my info from Wikipedia. Duh!
I just quoted it to show you how commonplace this Komagome/Ushigome thing is.
[iii] Wrong.
[iv] I’m pretty sure the name Akasaka Shrine and the name of Akasaka are a coincidence… but I may need to look further into this (because OMG my original article says nothing about this). The Ōgo clan was originally based at a mountain in present day Gunma Prefecture called 赤城山 Akagi-san Red Castle Mountain, when they came to this area, they established a shrine called Akasaka Shrine (Red Hill). The original shrine is in Waseda, Shinjuku. Originally in 牛込台 Ushigomedai Ushigome Plateau, it was moved twice – once in 1460 by Ōta Dōkan and again in 1555 by the Ōgo themselves. The shrine still exists in Shinjuku.
[v] Their holdings included 桜田 Sakurada (yes, the same Sakurada of 桜田門 Sakuradamon fame), 赤坂 Akasaka, and 日比谷 Hibiya. Anyone familiar with Edo Castle will immediately recognize their names and their connection to the castle.
[vi] The presence of another lord so close to where the Edo Clan and Ōta Dōkan had their fortified residences adds more to my assertion that Edo wasn’t just “an obscure fishing village” when the Tokugawa arrived.
[vii] UPDATE: There may be some evidence. If you’re interested, check out this blog! (Japanese only)
[viii] Essentially a look out and security check point leading into the castle grounds. For more on what a mitsuke is, check my article on Akasaka-mitsuke.

What does Kagurazaka mean?

In Japanese History on February 18, 2013 at 12:13 pm

神楽坂
Kagurazaka (Entertainment of the Gods Hill)

Don’t you just love these names?

Why is Kagurazaka called Kagurazaka?

Kagurazaka at night.

This one doesn’t have much of a story, but it’s definitely a cool spot in Tokyo. Kagura is a kind of Shinto ritual dance. It’s ancient and stylized and… I’ll be honest, I don’t know very much about it besides the name. If you want to learn more about it, read here: Kagura.

Anyways, the name was most likely given around the 1820’s (Edo Period) because music coming from the shrines echoed through the streets.

Why is Kagurazaka called Kagurazaka?

Kagurazaka by day.

In the Edo Period this area fell outside the very outermost boundary of Edo Castle (the present day, much diminished Imperial Palace).  As you can imagine, rich samurai and the feudal lords are the only types who could live or enjoy recreation in the areas surrounding the castle. “Kagura Hills” was just such an area. It wasn’t a “pleasure quarters” in the sense that Yoshiwara was, but it was the site of several high end shops for enjoying entertainment by Edo’s top geishas. If I’m not mistaken, the only 2 places in Tokyo where you can still see geisha are Kagurazaka and Ginza – the shops are extremely expensive. There might be some other places, but Kagurazaka is the most famous.

Why is Kagurazaka called Kagurazaka?

Feels like Edo!

The area retains some of the Edo flavor, so it’s a nice area to visit if you want to get a feel for the traditional look of Edo/Tokyo. There is a huge French ex-pat community in Kagurazaka, so if you want to get a feel for Paris, you can do that here, too…. lol

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